I once scored 16% on an 11th grade statistics exam. If only I’d spelt my own name right and perhaps collected another 4 percentage points, I’d have avoided an F grade — at least, I’d have avoided it if I’d been at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Chicago. The school has dropped its fail grade to 19%.

It is also adopting what it describes as a "Transformative Education Professional Development & Grading" plan. This is dressed up in the shallow verbosity that semi-educated ideologues deploy to make their mumbo-jumbo seem too sophisticated for ordinary folks to inquire into below the surface. But once the flummery is stripped away, the idea is to give black students a pass for skipping class, misbehaving when they do attend, and failing to hand in assignments either on time or at all.

This purportedly will battle racism and further the cause of equity. Superintendent Laurie Fiorenza wants nonacademic shortcomings to be ignored in deciding GPAs, West Cook News reported.

“Traditional grading practices,” the plan asserts, “perpetuate inequities and intensify the opportunity gap.”

Let’s agree that good behavior, punctuality, etc., are not the same thing as mastery of a subject. It’s not unheard of for a math whiz to goof off. Grading a test, an examiner should set aside the fact that little Johnny disrupted class the day before. Achievement and effort don’t always go together.

At my school, we were graded A through F for academic attainment and X, Y, or Z for effort. The crowning glory in those hippie days when it was coolest to succeed effortlessly was to get an A combined with a disreputable Z for lack of conscientiousness. But effortless success is not something most students of any era can achieve. Mastery of a subject usually correlates with a student putting in time and trying hard to learn.

In any case, minorities do less well on average than their white peers do in standardized tests. At Oak Park and River Forest High School last year, 77% of black students flunked the SAT, compared to 49% of Hispanics, 27% of Asians, and 25% of whites. The massive discrepancies cannot be attributed to teacher resentments about absences, failure to hand in assignments, or misbehavior.

A system that ignores nonacademic shortcomings to achieve racial GPA equality is built on the assumption that nonwhite children will misbehave, skip class, and not do required work. There may be empirical evidence for such an assumption, but it would be hard to come up with a better example of “systemic racism.” That is its foundation — what former President George W. Bush aptly called the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

If ignoring nonacademic factors does not help racial minority students learn better, which it clearly does not, what is going on at the Chicago school (and many others)? The answer is that teachers are gaming the system. Many colleges have dropped SAT scores from admissions criteria because standardized tests are deemed inequitable because minorities fail them more than white and Asian students do. Divergence of results is assumed to stem only and necessarily from injustice.

This obviously false assumption is a gift to teachers but not to students. If they can pump up the GPA scores of minority students by ignoring bad behavior, they can, in the words of Education Advisory Board Associate Director Margaret Sullivan, “improve students’ chances of being eligible and competitive applicants for postsecondary institutions.” In other words, underperforming students with goosed GPAs will be more likely to get into college.

Thus, minority students will be shoveled through to the next stage of an educational system that is failing them. Ignoring behavior that makes learning harder and mastery of a subject less likely does racial minority students no favors at all. It handicaps them. If you normalize and reward failure, you get more of it. You make minority students more likely to fail if you slough off your responsibilities as a school to teach children to study and absorb knowledge. You encourage bad choices if you turn a blind eye to them. If your hope is to help disadvantaged students, you are going about it the wrong way if you nurture habits that obstruct their paths to success.

Then those students who got into college with inflated GPAs will go on to fail in higher numbers. And that, naturally, will lead to yet more accusations of injustice. It works very nicely for the burgeoning injustice industry, but it doesn’t work for anyone else.